Casefile Clues

17 March 2014

Homesteading Without the Wife in New Mexico

Research on Montville Harness continues. Little was known about him after he left Illinois in the 1890s until he was found living in New Mexico in 1910.

When I discovered Montville Harness was living on a farm in New Mexico in 1910, I knew that a search of homestead records should be conducted for him given the location, the time period, and his occupation as a farmer. When I found a reference to Montville in the homestead records, I knew that I should access those records in an attempt to learn more about Montville. While the details in homestead records are often sketchy, the little I knew about Montville indicated that the records of his homestead should be accessed.

Homesteaders were asked broad questions about the family that lived with them. In many cases those questions confirm what the researcher already knows. In other cases the questions may provide new information about the homesteader and their family.

Montville Harness was no different in that he was asked about his family in his New Mexico homestead application. And in this case, it confirmed what other records had implied--that Montville was not living with his wife.

Montvill's 1917 affidavit indicated that his family consisted of "one wife who has deserted me, not having lived with me for 8 years."

Homestead application of Montville Harness, Santa Fe Land Office, Bureau of Land Management, Serial Patent 653766.

Per the date of the affidavit, it would mean that the couple split sometime in probably 1911. His wife is not named.

I'm not really certain whether or not the statement can be used to conclude that Montvill did or did not have children. Given that his wife lived apart from him and that he was on the New Mexico frontier, it seems logical that, if he had children with the wife who deserted him, that they would have lived with her. What the document does state is that Montville had a wife and that she left him probably in 1911.

Something one typically does not find in a homestead application.

All of which makes the point that "exhaustive searches" sometimes require searching everything, period.

And going forward, the homestead application provided the location of Montville's property. A search of land records to see how ownership left his possession should provide additional insight into his time into New Mexico.